Part Four - So What Camera Do I Need To Buy?

The promise of a new camera maybe great but do you need all the features and does your skill level match the potential of the camera tech?

The promise of a new camera maybe great but do you need all the features and does your skill level match the potential of the camera tech?

Within this part there is further series looking at different cameras for different reasons, and I will go through the pros and cons of many different types of camera. Hopefully one of these will serve you well.

Choosing the camera for your needs all depends on your available budget, of course. It also depends on what action and sound you want to capture with the camera. 

If you are new to this area, a high-end broadcast camera will most likely overwhelm you, also you will find the post-production route to be tortuous, expensive and ineffective for you. You will probably want something smaller and more user-friendly.

Need and want are definitely two different things! You may 'want' a fully spec'd broadcast camera, yet if you don’t have the backup storage, fast computers and a large post production budget this is not for you! Also if you are recording something only designed for web use then a full-blown Red Epic camera with a set of prime lenses will be huge overkill!

Different levels of expense and access

I personally use many different cameras on a daily basis, some costing as little as £200 and some costing many thousands of pounds more. You need to carefully pick your tools for the appropriate task, and one camera is unlikely to do everything you ask of it. The small cameras have some features the large cameras don’t have, and vice versa. It all normally depends on increased flexibility, and this is usually indicated by various different factors I explain below. 

I will now look at a few cameras built into devices you currently probably already use. Whilst they may not be broadcast quality, they can transmit your message to another part of the world, and getting your message out is perhaps sometimes more important than the quality.

As a caveat to that I expect anybody reading this to be looking at creating the very best pictures and sound you possibly can, and giving your end product the very best production value possible. Anything less than a camera designed for producing moving pictures is short changing both yourself and the audience. I do realise that not everybody has an endless budget of course and compromises often need to be made in the early stages.

With this in mind I want to show you some of the possibilities and pitfalls of making videos with anything other than a camera designed to make optimum quality moving pictures. For some applications the following possibilities are adequate for communicating your idea, as long as you realise the limitations. With this in mind we can delve right into the most basic of video cameras.

There are huge limitations to using something like a smart phone to shoot usable video, but there is also a healthy after-market growing up to help you out. Pictured above is  DxO's new One camera  designed to use your iOS device as a viewfinder and controller, their camera does all the photographic and video work.

There are huge limitations to using something like a smart phone to shoot usable video, but there is also a healthy after-market growing up to help you out. Pictured above is DxO's new One camera designed to use your iOS device as a viewfinder and controller, their camera does all the photographic and video work.

A video camera most of us already have…

Laptop video camera:

Perhaps you currently want to simply record an event to show other people who were not there? Many laptop computers and tablet computers already include a tiny camera built into the top of the screen looking at you, enabling you to transmit your face around the world to other people you know. This is great for keeping in touch with friends on the other side of the world, but that's about it. 

The tablet:

For quality reasons and ergonomic reasons it is highly limiting, and will potentially do more harm than good to your reputation.  For business use or professional use it is decidedly not the tool for the job.

The pixel count quality is fine for this type of application but the flexibility of operation is no match for a stand-alone camera that is built to capture moving images without having a computer attached to it. 

Smart phone video camera:

In addition to laptops, many mobile telephones nowadays have an HD video camera and also a stills camera built-in. The specification and quality of these cameras is quite incredible, and one that beats pixel counts around only five years ago from a high spec'd DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. 

However, a mobile telephone has a primary purpose in life to be a mobile telephone, and a secondary purpose to send texts and Emails, so the features of the camera are normally quite limited.

It is nice to be able to record clips of people being silly at a party, or filming a cat chasing a laser light around the room, or perhaps momentous occasions such as your child’s first steps in life. The mobile phone is ideal at capturing ad hoc moments in life. The mobile phone camera can also be used to quickly Email somebody for their expert evaluation, so for these reasons alone it is an absolutely invaluable tool. As you will probably normally always have a mobile phone with you it is already with you all the time, and they say the best camera to use is the one you have with you!

Most of the news coverage of the 2011 and 2012 Middle Eastern uprisings were shot on a mobile phone video camera and then sent over the Internet to the various news agencies around the world. This use of media ultimately helped a form of democracy for the people to flourish in many countries, and some nasty dictators have been toppled at the same time. For this reason alone, it is a worthy contender as a powerful communication medium; however, for presentation uses the mobile phone camera is very limited in its scope for many reasons. 

I expect you would agree that a full TV programme would be very challenging to shoot on a mobile phone, even if it has a high enough pixel count! There are limitations with lens focal length, focusing, white balance, sound recording and simply holding the camera on a tripod effectively! It really is a phone that happens to have a camera, as well as an Internet capability, torch, office suite, stills camera, GPS navigation, spirit level and much more.

However, there were some commercials made for Bentley cars and these were shot on the iPhone 5 in 2014 and the iPhone 6 in 2015. There are also currently some extremely high quality posters seen on the London Underground Tube network and these were all photographed using the iPhone 6. The photographs chosen are all extremely beautiful pictures from around the world in different climates and locations, so the camera quality is not the issue, it's the knowledge and ability of the user of the camera that is the limiting factor! 

Training and education is vital in any business, and certainly is essential in the fast-moving world of video cameras. In my courses I teach the fundamentals of understanding cameras and equipment, and how that affects your video production. I have written about in my e-book available on my website.

Vertical video 

The natural tendency for anyone holding a mobile phone is to hold it vertically and record the video. Unfortunately the phone naturally lends itself to holding this way, and sadly recording the video this way produces the 'vertical video look'. When the video is shown back on a normal television or monitor the video is in the wrong aspect ratio for the final result, giving a video picture that is 90° rotated and is on its side. Alternatively your video picture will be in the middle 1/3rd of the screen with black bars of nothing either side. This is unfortunately becoming quite a common problem, and makes the video picture unusable for most business uses.

The way video is normally transmitted in a horizontal format, and not vertical. There are some promotional videos in shopping malls, and even on advertising walls by the escalators on the tube that are shown vertically, yet these were produced for certain market audience and not for conventional broadcast or web use.

The quality is there, although the ergonomics of shooting a video on an iPhone or other smart phone leaves something to be desired and can lead to technical difficulties later.


After market iPhone lenses are a must for any kind of 'pro' shoot, a couple of choices comes from  Miveu  with the OlloCip (above) and  Schneider  with the iPro lens system.

After market iPhone lenses are a must for any kind of 'pro' shoot, a couple of choices comes from Miveu with the OlloCip (above) and Schneider with the iPro lens system.

The lens on any smart phone is an extremely limiting factor, and by its nature being built into the phone it will be tiny in size and not match anywhere near the quality of a lens made for a video camera. Zooming in on an iPhone will only zoom in on to the pixels, so the picture will become pixellated and ultimately extremely poor quality. There are external lenses that can be bought to clip onto the iPhone in particular, and these extend the range of the camera quite considerably, and are relatively inexpensive to purchase. Please take a look at my website to find out more details. 


Recording quality sound is also a technical challenge because the internal microphones are often too far away from the subject, and they often pick up a great deal of ambient background noise which will deteriorate the quality of the sound recording. The only way around this is by using an external microphone to plug into the headphone and microphone socket mini jack, and make sure the microphone is close to the person talking. One solution is the RØDE Smartlav+ as this is designed to do the job as a single solution . 

Perhaps you want to use a rifle mike connected to your smart phone, if so it will probably have a professional XLR connection - which doesn't connect directly to the smart phone. Some rifle mics do have a mini-jack connection but they tend to be designed to sit only on top of the camera. Ideally the microphone needs to be as close to the person talking as possible and if it is on top of the camera it will only be getting a general sound, not a close-up sound. Taking the microphone away from the camera needs an XLR extension cable, and there are many reasons why this is a good idea when using microphones.

By using an interface unit such as the iRig Pre Universal Microphone Interface enables you to plug in any XLR microphone and output it to the mini-jack of your smart phone. It also works with smaller type video cameras and DSLR cameras as well. This means you can use any high quality professional microphone and plug it into whichever camera you are using. It also provides 48V phantom power to the microphone as well if required. If you go to my website there are links to both devices there.

When you fully utilize all of the principles you will learn in this series of posts it is possible to get some great video results from the video camera inside a mobile phone. It really isn't the tool for extended video productions as the ergonomics and limitations will both frustrate and annoy. Yet with training and some knowledge it can be used to create some great video productions on a budget. 

For a more professional business orientated shoot you will really need to invest a little bit more in the tools of the trade, and a camera that is designed specifically to do the one job well. In the next post I will look at different cameras to do different jobs. Please continue to read. 

John Keedwell

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Posted on June 22, 2015 and filed under basics.